Arkansas Travelers Lose Series, Title to Missions


UPDATE: Missions Win the Series and Championship

North Little Rock, Arkansas – The San Antonio Missions won the 2013 Texas League Championship on Sunday afternoon with a 5-0 victory over the Arkansas Travelers. In winning the final two games of the series at Dickey-Stephens Park, San Antonio earned the franchise’s 13th league championship and second over the Travelers in the past three years.

Two players who had been non-factors in the post season led the Missions offensively. Designated Hitter Robert Kral collected three base hits including an RBI double in the first inning to set the tone for the game. First baseman Johan Limonta hit a grand slam in the fourth inning, which was the only home run hit by San Antonio during the post season.

Kral had entered Sunday’s fifth-and-deciding game 0-for-12 during the playoffs, while Limonta was 1-for-7 and had been inactive during the last week of the regular season.

Three pitchers combined to hold the Travelers to four hits with only one runner advancing to third base. Josh Geer earned his second win of the post season, both fifth-and-deciding game victories, with just three hits and no walks allowed in five innings. The 2007 Texas League Pitcher of the Year who returned to San Antonio working in both relief and starting roles struck out two batters. The Missions used game one winner Matt Wisler in relief for three perfect innings before Jeremy McBryde closed the game with a scoreless ninth inning.

The Missions wasted no time in grabbing the lead with a pair of doubles in the first inning. Cory Spangenberg hit a ground ball just inside the first base line with one out and scored when Kral collected his first post season base hit, a two-out double to left field.

After going through the second and third without a base hit, San Antonio struck again in the fourth inning. A one-out single by Kral and a two-out single by Yeison Asencio and a lucky bounce helped the Missions load the bases. Following Asencio’s hit, Adam Buschini’s ground ball took a weird bounce near second base into shortstop Jimmy Swift’s midsection causing him to bobble the ball. Limonta and Hynick battled to a 3-2 count before the Missions first baseman crushed a change up into the visiting bullpen. On their first home run of the postseason San Antonio took a 5-0 lead.

Brandon Hynick suffered his second defeat of the series allowing five runs on seven hits in five innings.

Update: Game Four – Series Tied 2-2 – Final Game SUNDAY 2:10 pm

North Little Rock, Arkansas – The San Antonio Missions rallied ahead by six runs and held on for a 6-5 defeat of the Arkansas Travelers in game four of the Texas League Championship Series. Juan Oramas (W, 1-0) dealt six scoreless innings to earn the win, while Yeison Asencio led the Missions with three RBI. The Travelers were led by first baseman C.J. Cron, who homered (4) and drove in four runs.

The Missions’ victory sends the series to a fifth-and-deciding game on Sunday afternoon at 2:10 p.m.

After leaving a runner at second base in the first and second innings, San Antonio broke through in the third. Jeudy Valdez hit a leadoff single to right field and was forced at second when Rico Noel reached base on a fielder’s choice. Noel ran on a pitch to Cory Spangenberg and advanced to third when the Missions second baseman hit a single to right field. Austin Hedges knocked home the run with a sacrifice fly to deep center field.

The Missions were set up in the fourth inning with runners at second and third with no outs after Jake Blackwood led off with a bloop single followed by a double down the third base line by Yeison Asencio. A sacrifice fly hit by Adam Buschini scored Blackwood for a 2-0 Missions lead. Then Rocky Gale executed a suicide squeeze bunt to score Asencio for a 3-0 lead.

San Antonio appeared to be quiet in the fifth inning, but found a way to put together their biggest inning of the series. With two outs and no base runners Hedges grounded a single up the first-base line. Lay Batista then hit Robert Kral with a pitch and walked Blackwood to load the bases before exiting the game. Right hander Elvin Ramirez relieved to face Asencio, who hit a liner just out of the reach of a diving Randal Grichuk in right field. With the ball rolling past Grichuk all three runners scored to raise San Antonio to a 6-0 lead.

Oramas controlled the Travs’ lineup throughout his six innings without allowing a runner past first base. Only three batters reached against the lefty with singles by Grichuk and Kaleb Cowart plus one walk. Oramas, who has thrown 12 scoreless innings during the post season, also struck out seven batters.

The Travs started to get back into the game once the San Antonio bullpen got involved. Ryan Kelly relieved in the seventh and hit Cyle Hankerd with a pitch. Cron followed with an RBI double to right-center to get the Travs on the scoreboard. Kelly left the game in favor of Tim Sexton after retiring Robbie Widlansky on a fly out. Sexton got Jimmy Swift to bounce to third base keeping Cron at second, but he followed by walking Cowart. Travis Witherspoon hit a grounder near third base that backed Blackwood behind the bag. He missed on a tough backhanded attempt and deflected the ball into foul territory allowing Cron to score while Cowart held at third on Witherspoon’s double. Both scored when Ryan Jones lined a pinch-hit single to left field to cut the lead to 6-4.

San Antonio brought Leonel Campos as their third pitcher of the seventh inning. He walked Grichuk to bring the go-ahead run the plate, but the rally fizzled when Taylor Lindsey popped out.

Campos came back for the eighth inning and allowed Cron a solo home run to right field, but also struck out the other three batters and held a 6-5 lead.

Jeremy McBryde worked the ninth inning and retired the bottom third of the Travs’ order to save the game (3).

Lay Batista (L, 0-1) took the loss allowing six runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings.

The last game of the 2013 season is set for Sunday afternoon when the Travelers and Missions engage in a winner-takes-all fifth game of the Texas League Championship Series. Arkansas All-Star righty Brandon Hynick, (0-1, 1.13) will get the start against veteran San Antonio righty Josh Geer (1-0, 3.00). First pitch is set for 2:10 p.m. and gates open at 1:10 p.m.

UPDATE Game Three – Travelers Lead Series 2-1

North Little Rock, Arkansas – The Arkansas Travelers scored three runs in the sixth inning, with C.J. Cron’s two-run homer the tiebreaking base hit, and went on for a 4-1 victory over the San Antonio Missions to take a 2-1 lead in the Texas League Championship Series at Dickey-Stephens Park. Cron and outfielder Randal Grichuk both went 2-for-4 with a pair of extra-base hits in the Travs’ 13th win in the last 14 games.

Mark Sappington pitched his way out of trouble for nearly all of his five innings. The 22-year old from Peculiar, Missouri, walked four and allowed four base hits but stranded six runners and got help from battery mate Jett Bandy, who threw out two Missions runners on the bases.

Arkansas pitchers allowed just six hits, stranded ten base runners and have allowed just two runs in 26 innings during the series.

Early in the game Sappington had trouble commanding his fastball and walked three batters in the first inning. However Bandy threw out Cory Spangenberg attempting to steal second base after the first walk. Two Missions runners were stranded when Jake Blackwood grounded to third base.

The Missions threatened in the second inning as Yeison Asencio singled and Austin Hedges walked with no outs. However with Everett Williams batting, Bandy picked Asencio off second base for the first out. Sappington then threw a wild pitch giving Hedges second base before inducing Williams to ground out to second moving Hedges third base. Second baseman Taylor Lindsey then made a nice backhanded scoop of a Jeudy Valdez grounder and threw across his body for a close out to end the inning.

More trouble found Sappington when Rico Noel hit a bloop double near the left field line to begin the third inning. Spangenberg bunted for a hit putting runners at the corners with no outs. Once again Sappington came through getting Adam Buschini and Johan Limonta to hit lazy fly outs to shallow left field keeping Noel at third base. Blackwood stranded both runners when he grounded out to Cron.

Sappington’s only easy inning came when he retired the Missions in order for the fourth inning. He then had to get around Noel’s second double, a one-out base hit to the left-field gap in the fifth. Noel stole third with one out, but Sappington came through with his only strikeout to take care of Spangenberg. Buschini flied out to end the inning and Sappington’s night came to a close.

Ryan Chaffee (W, 1-0) relieved Sappington for the sixth inning, but the Missions loaded the bases on a single by Blackwood followed by a walk to Asencio and a single by Hedges. Chaffee brought Blackwood home with a wild pitch then intentionally walked Williams to reload the bases. Chaffee escaped further damage when Valdez hit a fielder’s choice to short and Noel bounced to Lindsey at second base.

The Travs were dominated by Donn Roach over five innings with just one hit, one walk and another batters reaching on an error. Trailing 1-0 Grichuk got things going with a sixth-inning leadoff double followed by a sacrifice bunt by Lindsey that sent Grichuk to third and forced the Missions the play the infield up for Cyle Hankerd. Valdez had to reach for Hankerd’s high chopper to his right, but the ball kicked out as Grichuk scored the tying run on a single. Cron then crushed a 2-0 pitch and lined it over the four-foot wall in right-center field for a 3-1 Travs lead.

Roach was pulled after the long ball and took the loss allowing three runs on four hits and one walk while striking out five. The home run by Cron was just the eighth allowed by Roach this year and the first since July 22.

After Nick Maronde pitched the top of the seventh inning retiring all three batters including two by strikeout, the Travs struck again in the seventh inning. Travis Witherspoon bunted with one out for a base hit and stole second base. Grichuk lined a two-out base hit to the left of center field just out of the reach of Noel. The ball rolled to the fence for an RBI triple and a 4-1 Travs lead.

The Travs pen took it from there with both David Carpenter and Michael Morin (Save, 4) pitching one inning each. San Antonio went the last three innings without a base hit and just one total runner.

The Travs can win the Texas League Championship on Saturday night in the fourth game of the series. Lay Batista (0-0, 1.42 postseason) is set to take the ball for the Travelers against San Antonio lefty Juan Oramas (0-0, 0.00 postseason). First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m. and coverage of the game begins at 6:45 p.m. on Sports Animal 920.

UPDATE Game Two – Series Tied 1-1

San Antonio, Texas – The Arkansas Travelers answered back on Wednesday night with a 1-0 victory over the San Antonio Missions to even the Texas League Championship Series at 1-1. Michael Roth (2-0) tossed seven scoreless innings to earn the win while David Carpenter and Michael Morin (3rd save) each threw one inning to help the Travs bounce back from Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat.

Randal Grichuk came up big at the plate and in the field with the game’s only RBI and an outfield assist at home plate. The Travs scored the game’s only run in the second inning and allowed Roth to go to work. He had two stretches of seven outs in a row, walked just one batter and struck out three while allowing just four base hits.

The second-inning rally started after Kaleb Cowart was thrown out at second base by left fielder Adam Buschini attempting to stretch a single into a double. Travis Witherspoon worked a two-out walk and advanced to third base when Carlos Ramirez hit a bloop single on a 3-2 count. Grichuk got ahead 2-0 and lined a single to center to knock home Witherspoon.

Grichuk came up big again in the bottom of the second inning in right field. Blackwood hit a leadoff single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Austin Hedges dropped a one-out single near the right field line that sent Blackwood around third base. Grichuk hustled for the ball and fired to the plate stopping Blackwood in his tracks along the third-base line. Ramirez and third baseman Kaleb Cowart executed the rundown for the second out allowing Roth a chance to get out of the inning, which he did when Rocky Gale tapped back to the mound.

Roth got out of another sticky situation in the fifth inning leaving the tying run at second base. Yeison Asencio ended Roth’s string of seven outs with a leadoff double, but Roth retired Hedges on a pop fly for the first out then got Rocky Gale and Lee Orr both to ground outs to hold the 1-0 lead.

The Travs set themselves up in the sixth inning after a single by Robbie Widlansky and a double by Jimmy Swift put runners at second and third with no outs. Widlansky was tagged out running for the plate on Kaleb Cowart’s fielder’s choice then Witherspoon struck out. With Ramirez batting Cowart was thrown out attempting to advance to second base on a pitch that popped out of Hedges mitt stranding Swift at third base.

Roth got into trouble in the seventh inning after a one-out walk and a fielding error put two runners on base for Hedges. However Roth got Hedges to ground up the middle where second baseman Taylor Lindsey was waiting to start an inning double play.

Roth exited in the eighth after allowing a leadoff infield single to Gale. Carpenter relieved and quickly got two outs when pinch hitter Robert Kral grounded to shortstop Jimmy Swift for a double play.

Morin had an uneventful ninth inning retiring the side in order for the third game during the 2013 post season.

The Texas League Championship Series shifts to Dickey-Stephens Park after a travel day. On Friday the series resumes with the third game set for a 7:10 first pitch in North Little Rock. The Travelers have Mark Sappington (1-0, 3.60 in postseason) scheduled to start against San Antonio’s Donn Roach (0-0, 2.70 in playoffs).


UPDATE Game One:

San Antonio, Texas – Matt Wisler and three relievers combined on a four-hit shutout leading the San Antonio Missions to a 1-0 victory over the Arkansas Travelers in the opener of the Texas League Championship Series at Wolff Stadium on Tuesday night. Wisler defeated the Travs for the fourth time in five tries with 6.2 innings of work. Missions catcher Austin Hedges delivered the only RBI of the game with a second-inning single.

The loss was the Travs first since August 25 snapping an 11-game winning streak and their seventh in seven tries against the Missions on the road.

Travelers right hander Brandon Hynick was excellent in the loss throwing an eight-inning complete game. The last 17 Missions batters were retired by the Texas League All-Star who struck out eight batters and walked just one.

The game’s lone run came in the second inning on a pair of two-out base hits. Yeison Asencio hit a ground ball double down the third-base line and scored when Hedges knocked a single to center.

Hynick worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the third inning by striking out Robert Kral and inducing Jake Blackwood into a fielder’s choice.

The Travs failed to take advantage of a leadoff double by C.J. Cron in the top of the fourth inning. Cron moved to third on a groundout by Robbie Widlansky giving Jimmy Swift a chance with the Missions infield playing up. Swift followed with a chopper past the mound that brought Cory Spangenberg to his right for a tough play. However Cron held at third base and Swift was forced at first base. The Missions held the 1-0 lead when Travis Witherspoon’s line drive was caught by right fielder Yeison Asencio.

Hynick threw perfect ball for his last five innings, but the Travs couldn’t get anything going against Wisler or the San Antonio bullpen with 14 of their last 15 batters retired. Wisler walked Taylor Lindsey with two outs in the fifth inning but struck out Cyle Hankerd to end the inning and then set down his last seven hitters. Ryan Kelly replaced Wisler for the last out of the seventh.

Leonel Campos allowed the last base hit of the night, a two-out single to Hankerd in the eighth inning, but also completed a scoreless eighth inning. Jeremy McBryde closed the game for his second post season save with a perfect ninth inning.

The Travs and Missions return to Wolff Stadium on Wednesday for the second game of the best-of-five series. Michael Roth (1-0, 1.29) is set for the start for the Travelers while San Antonio goes with Eddie Bonine (1-0, 0.00). First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. Coverage with the Travs Dugout Show begins at 6:40 p.m. on Sports Animal 920.


The Texas League Finals begin Tuesday when the Arkansas Travelers visit the San Antonio Missions, the second time in three postseasons that the two meet for the title. The Missions swept the 2011 series, best remembered for the 20-inning Game 2. It remains the longest game in Texas League postseason history as well as the longest game in Travelers history.

Unlikely events follow the Arkansas Travelers around in the finals, which the club has made four times since it began its affiliation with the Angels in 2001. In that first season, Arkansas won the first two games of the Finals before the remainder of the series was canceled after the Sept. 11 attacks. The Travs were awarded the league title.

In 2005, Midland won the series in four games over Arkansas, but the last game was marred when Travelers batter Jason Aspito struck out in a count that included four balls. The fan reaction following the umpiring miscalculation in the one-run game necessitated a police escort for the men in blue as they exited the field in Little Rock.

In 2008, Arkansas won in five games over Frisco. The fifth game was pushed back because of Hurricane Ike’s devastation of Texas, and those Travelers had the worst record of any league champion at 62-78 (.443).

So, with Arkansas participating, expect the weird and wacky in the Texas League Finals.

Arkansas Travelers (73-66, North Division second-half champion) vs.
San Antonio Missions (78-61, South Division second-place overall)

How they got here: Arkansas swept Tulsa in three games and San Antonio defeated Corpus Christi in five in the Texas League semifinals.

San Antonio won the season series, 9-2

Game 1 at San Antonio, Sept. 10, 8:05 p.m. ET
Game 2 at San Antonio, Sept. 11, 8:05 p.m. ET
Game 3 at Arkansas, Sept. 13, 8:10 p.m. ET
Game 4 at Arkansas (if necessary), Sept. 14, 8:10 p.m. ET
Game 5 at Arkansas (if necessary), Sept. 15, 3:10 p.m. ET

Based on how the two teams matched up during the regular season, it would seem something strange is required for San Antonio not to come out on top. The Missions won nine of the 11 meetings, outscoring the Travelers, 43-30. The Finals’ scheduled starters for San Antonio combined to go 7-2 with a 1.90 ERA in 61 2/3 innings against Arkansas this season. The Travs’ scheduled starters? 1-3 with a 5.25 ERA in five starts over 24 innings.

On the other hand, this is baseball, which means any scenario is possible in a best-of-5 series. Indeed, Arkansas enters as the hotter team. The Travelers won 10 of their last 11 to end the season and then swept Tulsa in the North semis, outscoring the Drillers, 17-6, while bashing all six of the home runs hit in either of the two semifinals.

“They have the most talented team in the Texas League, without question,” said Missions manager Rich Dauer. “If they are starting to get to where they look like they’re going to go, they’re going to be very difficult to beat.”

In an admittedly small sample, Arkansas boasts the top four Texas League postseason performers in OPS, led by Angels No. 2 prospect C.J. Cron, who smacked two homers in Game 1 vs. Tulsa. Second baseman Taylor Lindsey, the Angels’ No. 4 prospect, smacked a pair of doubles and reached in seven of his 14 plate appearances, and outfielder Randal Grichuk, LA’s No. 5 prospect, added a pair of homers and a stolen base in the Travs’ first-round demolition.

Those three will lead a surging Travelers lineup trying to reverse form against a Missions staff that held it to a .218/.270/.309 line during the season. Cron had just a .209 OBP in 11 games and Cyle Hankerd, the Game 2 hero in the semis, was just 1-for-15 in four games.

Most of the pitchers who stymied Arkansas in the regular season are still around, including Game 1 starter — and Padres No. 5 prospect — Matt Wisler, who was 3-1 with a 2.05 ERA vs. the Travelers, fanning 19 batters and walking just four in 22 innings.

Eddie Bonine (1-1, 2.87 ERA vs. Arkansas), Donn Roach (3-0, 1.06), Juan Oramas (no appearances) and Josh Geer (0-0, 1.35) are the scheduled starters for Games 2 through 5. Oramas is the only lefty in the bunch; Bonine was effective despite fanning just one Traveler in 15 2/3 innings over two starts; and Roach should help keep the Travelers in the ballpark — he had far-and-away the best groundball rate in the Texas League this season. Geer was the winning pitcher in Game 5 of the semis.

“It’s amazing to watch,” said Dauer of Roach’s sinker. “When he’s in a groove, I don’t know if you can hit the ball in the air.”

The Missions allowed the fewest runs in the Texas League this season but were next-to-last in runs scored. Part of both is due to San Antonio’s Wolff Stadium (only Arkansas’ Dickey-Stephens field stifles runs and hits more). A lot of it, though, is the way the Missions are built. In the five-game series victory over Corpus Christi, they allowed just 12 runs but scored only 15. All five games were decided by two runs or fewer, and the winning team scored two or fewer runs three times.

“We play in a big park — their park is probably the second-best park in our style of play,” said Dauer. “It’s very hard to hit a ball out of our park. … It allows us to make a mistake and not get killed.”

Dauer also credited his defense’s improvement as being a big part of the club’s success in run prevention. In particular, the arrival of second baseman Cory Spangenberg in early June has transformed an infield defense that Dauer called the “worst in organized baseball” in the season’s first months.

On offense, speedy Rico Noel led the way in the opening series vs. Corpus Christi, batting .381 with a double, a triple and four runs scored, though he was caught stealing in his (and his team’s) only attempt after swiping a Texas League-best 59 bases during the regular season. The Missions led the Texas League in thefts with 171, 40 more than second-place Springfield.

“Any time you can get him on base — and we’ve got Spangenberg behind him — we’ve got action,” said Dauer of Noel. Spangenberg had 36 steals across two levels. “The pitcher has to go with a quick step; catcher’s got to be weary; shortens up your infield. Any time you have a speed guy on base, it creates chaos.”

The Missions got unlikely first-round contributions from outfielder Yeison Asencio (.300 average, three doubles) and second baseman Adam Buschini (.273 average, three doubles), neither of whom had an OPS better than .700 in the regular season for San Antonio. Spangenberg, the Padres’ No. 14 prospect, had two big hits in the clincher.

Arkansas’ pitching was fourth-best in ERA in the eight-team Texas League, benefiting in large part from the way its home park stifles home runs. Only San Antonio allowed fewer long balls, but the Travelers were just sixth in the league in strikeouts and issued the third most free passes.

Veteran righty Brandon Hynick gets the nod in Game 1 for Arkansas. The fly-ball pitcher’s 12 wins were second most in the league, and his 2.80 ERA was third best. He managed to avoid San Antonio in 24 Texas League starts.

Michael Roth, winner of the semifinal opener, starts Game 2, followed by Mark Sappington, the Angels’ No. 6 prospect, in Game 3.

Sappington struck out a batter per inning (26 in 25 2/3) in five starts after being called up from Inland Empire of the California League. He made his first two Double-A appearances against San Antonio, splitting the decisions while pitching 5 1/3 innings in each start. He allowed six hits and five walks in the second outing, Aug. 13, but managed to permit just one run in picking up his first Double-A win. He went five innings for the win in Game 3 of the semis. Perhaps if something strange is to happen in this series, it will come from the righty from Peculiar, Mo.

Lay Batista is the scheduled starter for a Game 4 (if necessary), and the Game 5 starter is to be announced.

In brief

First time’s a charm: Both Bogar with Arkansas and Dauer with San Antonio are finishing their first seasons as Texas League managers. Bogar has one prior title as a manager, when he skippered the Greeneville Astros to a 2005 Appalachian League title. This is Dauer’s second season as a manager at any level. He managed the California League’s San Bernadino Spirit, a Dodgers affiliate, in 1987.

A manager’s appreciation: What did Rich Dauer learn in what he calls his first true season as a field manager? “I now have a totally different view of all aother managers — the tremendous stress and extra work that you don’t see behind the scenes that I never even thought of. These guys who manage in the Majors and Minors are amazing.”

Don’t call us losers: The Travelers have had a losing record both times that Arkansas has won the Texas League title since teaming with the Los Angeles Angels in 2001. Along with the 62-78 regular-season record in 2008, Arkansas went 66-70 in 2001.

Courtesy Arkansas Travelers: Brendon Desrochers is an editor for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.